victim to Touts in South African Hospitals

If you, a family member or friend has been injured in an accident, it’s important to be aware that you might be approached by touts offering legal services.

This is increasingly common in South African hospitals and emergency rooms, and even at road accident sites. Touts approach people who are confused, suffering and in pain – and sometimes, they can be convincing and persistent.

However, it’s not in your interests to use the services promoted by touts. Their behaviour is unethical and may be untrustworthy.

What is a tout?

A tout is a person who makes direct and insistent attempts to sell a service or solicit work.

At best, touting that involves attempting to sell legal services to accident victims is unethical.

At worst, it is straightforward fraud, involving illegal gathering of information without the accident victim’s knowledge or consent.

The most common type of touting occurs in hospitals. It revolves around personal injury claims, especially Road Accident Fund (RAF) claims.

This practice has become so prevalent in hospitals that it raised the ire of the former Minister of Transport, Dipuo Peters. She described touts as vultures and “tsotsis” who were robbing the victims of accidents.

How to recognise touts in hospitals

Be suspicious about recommendations or referrals you receive, both en route to the hospital and once in the hospital.

“Recommendations” from strangers

Anyone you don’t know who approaches you or your family members to “recommend” an attorney or legal firm is probably a tout.

For example, you might find that a tow-truck driver, paramedic or even a police officer suggests you make a personal injury claim, and recommends a particular lawyer or legal firm.

Someone waiting alongside you in an emergency room might also do this.

In South Africa, chances are that this person has been paid to work as a tout.

Offers of legal services or large payouts in hospital settings

Similarly, be suspicious if a stranger in a hospital setting approaches you and:

  • recommends you make a personal injury claim
  • suggests you can get large sums of money as compensation for your injury
  • offers contact details for a personal injury lawyer or firm
  • suggests you sign a power of attorney for a law firm.

Unsolicited emails or phone calls

If you or a family member has recently been in a road accident and you receive an unsolicited offer of legal assistance, it may be because your details were illegally sold to a tout.

A previous chief marketing officer for the Road Accident Fund, Nozipho Jafta, reported that certain police officers sold road accident reports and even commissioned claimant affidavits for touts.

In one scam that was uncovered, this went even further. Corrupt members of the police gleaned sensitive information from accident reports and passed it to third-party agents.

The agents would then visit accident victims in poor communities, and convince them to lodge RAF claims through them. Doctors were even roped in to provide fraudulent medical reports.

The completed claim documents were then sold to unscrupulous lawyers.

Rules against touting in the legal profession

In South Africa, the Legal Practice Council is a national, statutory body that regulates the professional conduct of all legal practitioners and candidate legal practitioners in the country. It also accepts and investigates complaints from members of the public.

Touting is prohibited by the Legal Practice Council’s Code of Conduct.

This specifies that a legal practitioner may not:

  • “…act in association with any organisation or person whose business or part of whose business it is to solicit instructions for the attorney”
  • “…buy instructions in matters from a third party and may not, directly or indirectly, pay or reward a third party, or give any other consideration for the referral of clients other than an allowance on fees to an attorney for the referral of work.”

Similar guidelines apply in the health profession. For example, professional guidelines published by the Health Professions Council Of South Africa (HPCSA) note that, “A practitioner shall not canvass or tout or allow canvassing or touting to be done for patients on his or her behalf…”.

Steps to take if you are approached by a tout

If someone approaches you with an unsolicited offer of help filing a legal claim (such as a Road Accident Fund claim), it’s best to be firm. State that you are not interested and move away.

Even if you believe you have a valid personal injury claim, it’s much safer to contact a suitable, reputable legal practitioner yourself.

You can also report a tout to relevant authorities.

How to report a tout operating in a hospital

If you feel you or a family member is being harassed on hospital premises, you can request immediate assistance from any hospital staff member or security guard.

You can also report a tout to hospital management, via the hospital’s standard complaints channels. (There is usually a separate help number for complaints).

In addition, if any legal practitioner engages in touting or uses the services of touts, you can report this individual to the Legal Practice Council.

To do this, you can lodge a complaint directly via a form on the Legal Practice Council’s website.

A general rule of thumb to avoid falling victim to touts

The key rule is avoid engaging with anyone who approaches you directly, claiming to be a personal injury lawyer or legal agent.

Never, ever share information of a personal or medical nature with a stranger who approaches you at the scene of an accident or in a medical environment to offer you legal services.

Touting is considered unethical – and sometimes it’s illegal. No credible attorney would risk being struck off the roll, and no reputable law firm would break one of the cardinal rules of its own profession.

Instead, if you have a personal injury claim, contact an established, reputable law firm with a proven track record in personal injury law. This is the best way to avoid scams and ensure you get only competent legal advice and assistance.


How DSC Attorneys can help

Founded over two decades ago, DSC Attorneys is a large, well-established firm of attorneys that specialises in personal injury law. Contact us for professional, ethical and considerate legal support and representation.

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